To all food lovers and budding critics alike, a Canberra restaurant is serving up a five-course feast so diners can taste and rate new dishes of the season.

Sage Dining Rooms is creating their new autumn menu, and they want your help. That means only one thing – Taste & Test is back!

During the weeks of Taste & Test, Sage offers a surprise menu of five courses, which are each scored out of ten by diners, and you also score the service and overall experience of the night.

I love that the scoring sheet is printed directly onto the paper tablecloth, so you have lots of space to be really detailed with your comments and feedback. I was assured by our waiter that the chef reads every comment and welcomes constructive feedback at the end of each night. After all, the aim is to create a menu that Canberrans can enjoy many times for the next few months.

I was booked in for my very first Taste & Test this past Friday, and I know that it definitely won’t be my last.

First course: Hiramasa Kingfish with mushroom dashi vinaigrette, crispy kombu, chicken fat and horseradish. What a great start to the night!

I had never had kingfish before but it was melt-in-the-mouth good. The grated horseradish added a slight bite to the dish which I enjoyed. The negative for me on this dish was the broth on the bottom, which I’m not typically a fan of, so I would have enjoyed the dish more without it. Despite this, I loved the crunchy element of the crispy kombu and overall presentation.

My score: 7.9/10

Second course: Seared scallop with cauliflower, miso and pear puree, leek, and edible flowers.

This ended up being my favourite dish of the night. It was warm and comforting to eat, and smelled incredible when it was placed on the table. The scallop was perfectly cooked. For me, the stand out element of the dish was the combination of miso, pear, and cauliflower puree. The downfall was that I didn’t have a spoon to scoop it all up! If it was socially acceptable to lick the plate, I absolutely would have.

My score: 10/10 

Third course: Duck with quinoa, watercress, chicken jus, pea puree, and cranberries.

This was another ‘wow’ dish for me. The duck was cooked to perfection and was complemented with a well-seasoned quinoa and sweet cranberry garnish. The puree was creamy and smooth and paired well with the tender duck. It was the ideal portion size and the flavour, texture and presentation on this dish all got a 10/10 from me. The course was completed with crunchy duck croquettes served on the side. I couldn’t fault this dish and would order it 100 times! I hope it makes it onto the final menu.

My score: 10/10

Fourth course: Braised beef with bone marrow, lotus chips and pickled enoki mushrooms.

I know I’ve said this about every dish, but the smell of the beef arriving at the table was mouth-wateringly good. Despite beginning to feel full from the previous courses, I was as excited to try the beef as I would have been if it had been the first dish of the night. It did not disappoint. The meat fell apart when cut, and the flavour was rich and comforting, especially with the bone marrow. I can imagine this being a star dish on a cold winter’s night. The crunchy lotus chips were a brilliant addition, as were the pickled enoki mushrooms. The only negative for me was that it was quite a rich dish, and after the duck it was almost too much. However, if I saw this dish on any menu, it would definitely catch my eye.

My score: 9/10

Pre-dessert: Apple lolly pop with pistachio crumb, chocolate ganache and seasoned apple crisp.

Thanks to Sage I have made a promise to myself to have a pre-dessert before every dessert from now on! The apple lolly pop was an experimental dish but I loved it. The pistachio crumb and smooth ganache went perfectly with the apple. It was served on top of a paper-thin ‘apple crisp’, which was weird, wonderful, and completely more-ish.

Fifth course: Apple sorbet, warm butter crumble, white chocolate bavarois.

The pre-dessert prepped us for the fifth course, which was a dessert complete with a fresh apple sorbet, white chocolate bavarois, and warm butter crumble. The bavarois was outstanding. It had a smooth and creamy texture and was not too sweet. Paired with the tart apple sorbet, this was a delightful combination. I also liked the crunch of the crumble at the bottom. This is now one of my new favourite desserts in Canberra.

My score: 11/10 (what can I say – I love dessert!)

While eating dessert, head chef Thomas came out to chat to us about the meal. He told us a little bit about the process of creating the menu, and how it evolves over the weeks of the Taste & Test based on the feedback he receives each night.

Thomas feels the event works well because people enjoy having a chance to get involved when eating out. I have to admit that knowing that I needed to score each dish made me focus on the flavours, presentation, textures and smells of each course much more than I would have if it was just a ‘normal’ night out at a restaurant.

Thomas also enjoys the creative aspect of forming the menu for the Taste & Test and collaborating with his team to find innovative ways of using the flavours of the season to showcase seasonal produce. It was interesting to hear about some of the behind the scenes aspects of putting together the Taste & Test, and it sounds like everyone at Sage enjoys this time of year.

To drink, I had an elderflower spritz which was light and refreshing. Diners also have the option of pairing the menu with wines, cocktails, or mocktails which are served with each course.

The cosy and welcoming atmosphere of the restaurant and the soft jazz music will transport you to another era, especially when paired with any of these drinks packages.

Taste & Test is running for one more week, and then in the first week of May the restaurant will be showcasing the ‘best of the best’, which are the meals that got 10 out of 10 (or higher) over the past month. I would highly recommend going to Sage over the next two weeks as no matter what, you will be treated to a menu you won’t want to miss.